In celebration of the American Planning Association (APA) National Community Planning Month, The Weekly Planner has been highlighting APA's Great Places in America 2011 honorees. This week, we'll close out this series with a look at what are the key components of Great Public Spaces. How does a great public space promote social interaction and a sense of community? Let's see what we can learn from this year's selections:
Garden of the Gods Park
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Gray's Lake Park
Des Moines, Iowa
St Paul, Minnesota
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park
Point Defiance Park
Once a landfill, the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is now full of things to see, do, and learn along the pathways and gathering places of this linear park. Inspired by the National Mall in Washington, DC, its 19 acres was planned, designed, and built to commemorate Tennessee's 200th anniversary and honor the state's geography, history, people, and musical legacy. Dramatically framing the Tennessee Capitol, this great public space is home to local, state, and national events throughout the year.
Riverside, California's Fairmount Park was used as a picnic and swim area as early as 1870. Dedicated as a 35-acre park in 1898, it eventually expanded to 245 acres. Today, Fairmount Park has reclaimed its community legacies, inspiring one resident to brag, "You won't find another park that is as family oriented." With the 2010 addition of a $2.6 million universally accessible playground designed to delight and challenge all children, this park is considered the gold standard for inclusion. Volunteers and rehabilitation program funding brought back fishing and sailing on the lake. Other amenities include a restored band shell, restored boathouse, memorials, 1930s golf course, and shaded paths and gardens. The Regional Santa Ana River Trail - a multi-use biking, walking, and jogging trail along northern end of park - connects to trails leading to the Pacific Ocean and, in the future, to the San Bernardino Mountains.
Easily accessible from two DART light rail stops, cars, bicycles, and on foot, Fair Park combines Dallas, Texas' City Beautiful Movement planning with the largest collection of 1930s architecture in the USA. The National Geographic Traveler magazine calls Fair Park "a district telling dozens of stories from dozens of cultures." Located on a former cotton field, the site was initially acquired by a group of civic leaders for an annual state fair, which began in 1886. And, talk about bang for your buck, park events contribute more than $300 million annually to the Dallas economy!
Trail counts project that more than one million people use Gray's Lake Park each year, whether to eat lunch, walk dogs, connect to local and regional trails, attend outdoor yoga classes, or boat and fish. A place for all seasons, Gray's Lake is the crown jewel of the Des Moines, Iowa's park system - the epitome of an ideal public space. To make this great place happen, local philanthropists pledged $1.5 million for a trail around lake; a local construction firm donated the one-third of the lake it owned to the city; and area businesses, groups and individuals donated funds for the park. The city's 2020 Community Character Plan recognized the potential of Gray's Lake Park to be the "showpiece as part of an exciting gateway into downtown Des Moines."
Sitting two blocks to the west of the Indianapolis State Capitol, Monument Circle was planned in 1821 and is located in the heart of Circle City. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument takes center stage within the circle, flanked by two water pools and a grand staircase leading to the base where visitors can view the city from the 231-foot-tall observation tower. Pedestrians on the outer ring are separated from vehicular traffic by raised islands containing trees, light standards, planters, and a 25-foot-wide sidewalk, while a 23-foot-wide inner walkway surrounds Monument's base. Surrounded by Victorian-era and Art Deco buildings dating back to 1857, Monument Circle is both functional and attractive as gathering place for parades, festivals, exercise classes, or to rest and sip coffee. More than 100,000 attend the 50-year-old annual lighting of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. This great public space beckoned locals to spontaneously gather following the Indianapolis Colts' 2007 Super Bowl victory.
Residents, including children, played a key role in helping plan and design the Milwaukee RiverWalk. More than 200 students explored the Milwaukee River and made drawings of what they discovered from which 18 pieces of artwork were cast in bronze medallions now on display throughout this great public space. The pride residents have for the RiverWalk and everything it has done to improve downtown and its adjoining neighborhoods is unmistakable. The goal of RiverWalk is to improve access and connectivity as well as boost commerce, and that it has. Funded through a public-private partnership, the RiverWalk stimulated an increase of $712 million in commercial and residential investments accounting for more than 50% of local growth from 1998 to 2002.
Visit APA's Great Public Spaces for more details on all of these great places. Each of these was decades - many more than a century - in the making. Each celebrates local culture and historic roots; functions as a public gathering place for daily life and events; promotes social interaction; and fosters a strong sense of community identity. These great public spaces have created a better quality of life for their residents and visitors and have positively impacted economic value in their communities. Great places continue to thrive throughout America, driven jointly by local citizen volunteers and the business community, as well as by government officials who are keenly aware of both the long and short term benefits of planning.
Great neighborhoods, great streets, and great public places are memorable and evoke a sense of community pride. By focusing on creating and maintaining great places, decisions made today will continue to improve our quality of life and attract economic generators to our region for generations to come. APA's Great Places in America represent, year in and year out, what we continue to strive for as a community.
This is why we plan.